In the 20th century, the industrialized culture of the United States spread deep into rural native communities with devastating costs. Rampant alcoholism, sexual abuse, disease, violence, and suicide are just a few of the disturbing consequences that unmitigated industrialization has on Native American communities. The traditional method of assistance for these communities came in the form of federal aid, social workers, police, and economic development projects, none of which resulted in a serious improvement of these social problems. In Kotzebue, Alaska, the native Inupiat culture decided to look within and to the past for a solution that would enable them to grasp the positive effects of industrialization and yet retain their cultural tradition and identity.
With this goal in mind, they created Inupiat Ilitqusiat, a program that emphasizes traditional values while embracing the positive influences of industrialized culture. The program locates innovative solutions, based on tradition, to relieve the difficult problems encountered with industrialization.
The program was initiated during development of the Inupiat's major economic resource: The Red Dog Mine. As part of the Alaska Native Claims Settlement Act of 1971, the Northwest Arctic Native Association (NANA) was given rights to lands that included the Red Dog Mine: a mine rich in molybdenum, silver, zinc, and lead. The Inupiat consulted with Cominco, a Canadian mining company, and found that developing the resources of the mine could be profitable. The Inupiat contracted Cominco to manage the work, but demanded several provisions: Local citizens were to make up the majority of the mine's employees. Workers' shifts were shared throughout the 24-hour day and throughout the year so that the more people could be employed. Flexibility in scheduling was created to cater to the local holidays and traditions such as the autumn caribou hunt. And village elders were organized into subsistence committees that oversaw the effects the mine's development had on the environment.
The Red Dog Mine has proven to be a successful venture for both the company and the villages of Kotzebue. However, the Inupiat Ilitqusiat has had a positive impact on many other areas of the society. In nearly every aspect of health and social services, the traditional is intermingled with the modern. The local hospital houses several doctors of mainstream medicine who receive referrals and otherwise work with three tribal doctors who employ traditional remedies. Employees at the hospital are screened and rewarded for the understanding of Inupiat language and culture that helps them better serve local patients. The community has established a correctional "camp" (diversion program) that keeps many Inupiats from encountering the non-native criminal justice system. The entire theme of the camp is re-educating and re-absorbing the participants into the village's culture.
The local school district has also joined in the effort. Instruction in Inupiat has been added to the curriculum and occurs on a daily basis thereby providing employment to the elders and tradition to the youth. Elders are brought to school regularly during "Inupiat Days" to teach native culture and essential subsistence skills. The school district has also worked to fill the enormous gap in curricular materials, preparing and publishing in Inupiat and English, The Lore of the Inupiat: The Elders Speak.
The program's slogan, "walking in two worlds with one spirit" best sums up the approach this native community has taken towards modernization. Maintaining it will require continued innovation and education so that the culture is maintained as the world changes. Leaders of the Inupiat are aware, that without diligence, their society could slowly deteriorate to another nameless native minority. Through their emphasis on the people, the traditions, and the future, the Inupiat believe that they have found a tenable balance between the foundations of their traditions and the promise of the future.